Walmart Gets Aggressive in Beer Category

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Walmart Gets Aggressive in Beer Category


BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- The beer category is estimated to be worth $45 billion in the United States and for the past year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been taking aggressive action to grab a greater piece of the pie.

In September, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer gathered 500 representatives from the alcohol industry for an adult beverage summit. Close to one year later, Walmart has doubled its number of alcohol buyers to 12 and offered discounts on a range of brands from premium to craft, according to a report by Bloomberg. The company also shifted inventory to make room for beer and its new stores are designed to highlight the category.

"We're seeing dramatic increases in sales," said Steve Bailey, who attended the summit as vice president of chain accounts for Columbia Distributing, which supplies beer to about 90 Walmart stores in Washington and Oregon. That "has pushed us to pay more attention to Walmart."

Walmart's push into beer has been relatively quiet, but the feedback has been positive. The retailer now promotes alcohol in its circulars, reversing a previous ban.

"Focusing on adult beverage is a decision we made this year," Deisha Barnett, a Walmart spokeswoman, told the news outlet. "Feedback has been very positive" and the relationship with distributors "has been very collaborative."

While Walmart has been selling wine, beer and spirits since its first supercenters opened in the late 1980s, company executives at September's summit said the chain's share of the alcohol market lagged behind that of the grocery market, Bloomberg reported.

Chief Marketing Officer Duncan MacNaughton and two other executives detailed a three-prong plan to remedy that: devote more shelf space to alcohol and do a better job promoting it; discount wherever possible; and hire more alcohol buyers and reduce the size of their territories so they can interact more often with distributors.